Monday, October 22, 2007

First Tinky Winky . . .

J.K. Rowling, author of the wildly popular Harry Potter books, recently announced that she'd always thought that Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is gay. (Click here to see how Publisher's Weekly reported this story, and here for a New York Times piece about how the blogosphere is responding.)

Some are saying that she should have been more explicit about it; others are calling it much ado about nothing. I, for one, am glad to know and glad that it was never more of an issue. (I'll happily admit to being a huge fan of the series!)

There are so many things that go into a person's identity and our sexual orientation--or "affectional preference"--is but one piece of it. Does my being a one-time french horn player make me unfit for military service, underserving of the same opportunities to rent or buy real estate, or unable to make a life-long commitment? Does my being a lover of comic books make me a poor choice to be a preacher? (There are impressionable youngsters around, you know.)

I know I'm being silly. One's sexual orienation is considerably more important an element of a person's identity than whether or not one plays an instrument or follows the exploits of the Batman. Still, it is only one element, no matter how vigorously some try to make it the defining element.

I am glad to know that Dumbledore is gay. It's one more think I know about this "person" I've come to admire. And I'm glad that I didn't know before this, because there was absolutely no way in which his sexual orientation played any part in the story.

As is so often the case.

In Gassho,


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

All Work and No Play

One of my favorite quotations comes from the poet Louise Bogan. She wrote,

"I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering;
surely the strange beauty of the world must somwhere rest on pure joy."

I had to post this photo of the Elders as a counterpoint to the more formal shot I used in my last post.


A New Day Dawning

I have written before about stories from the news that have given me hope--that someone somewhere is crazy enough to get into a lawn chair rigged with balloons and go for a ride, that someone else will get on a Torro mower and drive from Alaska to Maryland. These things, I've said, have been for me like the sight of a blade of grass that has pushed its way through the asphalt--a reminder and the promise that life will always be free.

Yesterday I came across a story that I had heard nothing about but which fills me with true, deep hope for our future as a species and which feels to me a signal that a new day is indeed dawning. In July, on Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday, Mandela and several others announced the formation of a new group--The Elders. Like traditional elders for our global village, these women and men have come together to "support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair."\

The list of founding members is indeed illustrious: Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Fernando H Cardoso, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson, Muhammad Yunus.

"This group," quoting Mandela again, "can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken."

A brief video introduces the group, and a press release gives more details (see "Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu announce The Elders .")

I think a remark from Desmond Tutu, the group's chair, puts it in perspective for me:

"Despite all the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even econcomically prosperious. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place. We--the Elders--will endeavor to support those people and do our best for humanity."

This may sound corny, but I really do think I'll sleep better tonight.

In Gassho,


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Many Lives

I was recently reading a friend's blog and was reminded of the reason Henry David Thoreau gave for leaving his little house on Walden Pond. "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." (See chapter 18)

My friend, David Heald, was writing about his decision to leave the parish ministry--check out his Transparent Eyeball Blog entry, "Many More Lives To Live." I've also known people who left careers to become parish ministers. My own older brother, after many years in the computer field, recently became a social worker. All around us there are people who, as Thoreau also said, are living "lives of quiet desperation," yet also all around us there are people who have the courage to strike out and do something new.

One of the things that always appealed to me about the Highlander TV show was the idea of these immortals who'd had "many lifetimes" in which they could pursue many different paths--the same woman or man who'd been a concert pianist, a surgeon, a mercinary, a monk. I always thought it would be a wonderful thing to have the opportunity to live many different lives, and here's old Henry David talking about doing so within his own, limited, lifespan; about leaving one life for any of the "several more" that were waiting for him. And, as it turns out, I've known people who've done it.

I haven't before solicited comments on my blog, but I'm going to try it out. I'd really love to hear from people who've "changed lives":
  • How did you know it was time to move on?
  • How did you go about doing it?
  • What was it like to do something new?
  • How do you feel about it now?
There are so many reasons for despair in our world, and there are so many reasons for hope. Which stories would you rather hear?

In Gassho,


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What a Wonderful World (cont'd.)

Okay, so we have Paul Woods, the guy who's riding across the country on his Torro mower. Now we have Kent Couch, a 47-year old gas station owner who recently settled back and traveled nearly two hundred miles . . . carried by the 105 large helium balloons he'd attached to his lawn chair! [Read the AP story here.]

Mr. Couch is not the first person to go flying in a lawn chair. That honor goes to Larry Walters who, in 1982 flew for a distance of only about ten miles but acheived an altitude of three miles on a lawnchair to which he'd attached forty five weather balloons. This put him up where the airplanes fly, and two pilots radioed air traffic control to report seeing a man flying on a chair. The FAA took this seriously and immdediately reported that they would charge him "as soon as we figure out which part [of the FAA code] he violated." [Check his story out here.]

I've written this before and will no doubt come back to this theme again: we live in a wonderful world.

In Gassho,


Doing the Numbers

In every broadcast of American Public Media's Marketplace a point comes when the host says, "Let's do the numbers." And every morning, on my way to work, I hear the media doing numbers of a different kind: the number of casualties from the latest suicide bombing in Iraq, the number of American military killed in the most recent skirmish.

I suppose it's important for us to know about these numbers. They help us to understand what's called "the human cost" of our species' penchant for violence. And if we can think of them as people and not just numbers, perhaps our hearts will be moved to really work for peace. (Remember Stalin's famous remark, "The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.")

Yet it seems to me that if we need to know these numbers, there are some other numbers we should know as well:
  • The number of children who died since yesterday because of a lack of access to healthcare;
  • The number of people of color who were harrassed and arrested simply because of the color of their skin and a police officer's assumptions about that;
  • The number of gay, lesbian, and transgender kids who were taunted, shunned, and even beaten just for being who they are;
And better yet, what about these numbers:
  • The number of alcoholics who lived one more day of sobriety;
  • The number of stressed out, overworked parents who didn't hit their kids;
  • The number of people facing seemingly impossible odds who made a decision to change their lives . . . and began to act on it;
  • The number of acts of kindness performed without thought to recompense;
  • The number of strangers who became friends;
  • The number of people who's lives were saved by acts of love

Surely there are many numbers we need to know about in order to make sense out of the world we live in. And, as it's often been noted, what we choose to make the focus of our attention helps determine our experience of that world. So next time you "do the numbers," think carefully about what numbers you do.

In Gassho,


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What You See Is What You Get

Okay, so let's assume that we agree that the fundamental Big Question is whether or not there is a Go(o)d. What if the answer is both "yes" and "no" and the determination is made when we choose our answer? What if this question is like the poll that's been on this site for so long--is the glass half full or half empty? The answer to that one, of course, is that it is both, or either, and that you and I get to choose which it is.

This may seem to be some kind of wishy-washy cop out. How can there both be and not be a Go(o)d? Certainly the theists or the atheists must be right, one or the other. Certainly there is an answer, how else can we possibly act with any kind of assurance that the answer we've "chosen" is the right one?

I know that it's dangerous to take scientific theories and apply them to philosophies or social constructs, but religious language is essentially poetic; it doesn't deal with facts and figures but with the sense of things. So it seems perfectly appropriate to apply the language of science--as poetry--to the Big Questions we face in our living.

And one of the things we've learned from modern science is that we live in a pretty weird world. The scientist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark once wrote, "The universe is not only more strange than you imagine. It is more strange than you can imagine." And it does seem that we live in a fundamentally both/and universe.

Consider light. Physics tells us that there are essentially two distinct states--waves and particles. Yet quantum physics tells us that light appears to be both or, perhaps more confusingly, it can be either depending on what you're looking for. If you conduct an experiment to examine light as a wave, then it shows up as a wave; if your experiment is designed to look at light as a particle, it is there as a particle. And taking this a step further, physicists tell us that it is more accurate to say that light is either, or neither, wave or particle until you look at it as one or the other at which point it becomes precisely what you're looking for.

Hard as this is to wrap our heads around, it seems that it's not only light that can exist in two seemingly discreet and contradictory states simultaneously. Even more weird than the state of protons there is the famous thought experiment that has come to be called Schrodinger's Cat in which a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a mechanism that creates a 50/50 chance of killing the cat. According to an application of quantum law the cat can be meaningfully said to be both alive and dead until an observer opens the box. (Here's an explanation of all this . . . in verse no less!)

Alive and dead; wave and particle; half full and half empty. To paraphrase the Preacher of the Jewish book of Ecclesiastes, "Paradox, paradox! All is paradox."

What if God is the same way? (And here I'll just start using the three-letter version because I hope it's evident by now that I'm not talking that God when I use the term--whatever "that God" is for you.) What if God can be meaningfully said to be both existent and non-existent, both real and a delusion with the determinant being what it is that you're looking for? Like the scientist looking at light it's a particle if that's what the experiment is looking at and it's a wave when that's what's being studied. So God is for those who seek God, and equally is not for those who don't.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant in the phrase he is remembered as saying so often, "for those who have eyes, let them see . . ." or where comes the certainty in the encouragement, "seek and you will find."

In Gassho,


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is There A Go(o)d?

I've often said that one of the purposes of religions is to help us wrestle with life's Big Questions. (And thanks to A.A. Milne and Pooh for the idea that Very Important Words should always be capitalized!) The Big Questions are things like: Why am I here? What's the meaning of life? What happens when we die? How should I live? Things like that.

It seems to me that one of the biggest Big Questions is, Is There A God? Now, by this I am not meaning is there an anthropomorphized deity, a big daddy or big mama in the sky, or, as a teen once put it, "a buff Santa in a toga" looking down on us from the heavens. That question, it seems to me, is too specific. It's like wondering if there's something called water but asking if there's Perrier.

So let's start at the most general. A philosopher's definition of God might be, "That Than Which No Greater Can Be Conceived," because whatever other specific attributes have been conferred on humanity's various god and goddess images, all religions have held god to be the ultimate, the absolute. So whatever else might be said about something deserving of the name “god” it must be the best, the preeminent, the unsurpassable.

And this, it seems to me, is the foundational Question we need to wrestle with: is there an absolute, preeminent, unsurpassable, ultimate . . . something? Plato called it “The Good,” and for him it was an ideal, a conception, not a tangible thing. Theists, obviously, call their "good" God and give it consciousness and will. Taoists see it as an impersonal flowing movement, the Tao. What all of them have in common is the assumption of an underlying, all-pervading, ultimate.

This question is foundational because if you believe there is a "go(o)d" then that in which you believe can provide order and meaning for life. If there is no "go(o)d" then this is a truly relativistic universe and there is no direction. Answering this Big Question, then, provides a basis to help with answering all of the others.

In Gassho,


Monday, June 11, 2007

Where It's All About You

A colleague recently posted a link to a video from the website It's a Christian source for short video clips preachers can insert in their sermons. One of them, the one linked here, is called "MeChurch" and, well, it speaks for itself.

I am often tempted to root some of the problems I wrestle with as a parish minister in Unitarian Universalism itself. (And some no doubt are rooted there.) Yet watching the MeChurch video reminds me that the "cult of the individual" has been enshrined not just within UU congregations. Another clip from the same site is a mock ad for a new collection of worship songs called It's All About Me which features such songs as "Now I Lift My Name On High," "I Exalt Me," "How Great I Am," and, "O Come Let Us Adore Me." It's definately aimed at a Christian audience.

So how do we combat our culture's emphasis on the individual without going too far and dismissing the individual? How do we reconnect people to the power of the whole without letting go of the much needed affirmation of the parts? And, more specifically, how do we change the culture in our congregations so that individuals know themselves to be part of something larger than themselves--so that the first question isn't "what do I need?" but, rather, "what do we need?" I think of this in terms of such endemic problems as: low levels of financial support; one "interest group" battling another; those without kids wondering about the importance of religious education for our kids and those with kids wondering about the importance of resources for our elders; people leaving the church in a huff over this slight or that slight. I see this in church after church after church.

How do we make that shift? No answers; only some of the questions that I'm wrestling with.

In Gassho,


Size matters

Back in 1776, the United States of America consisted of 13 colonies, and there were roughly 2.5 million people living here. Today there are 50 states, and an estimated 301,139,947 people. This may not seem like an overly insightful observation, but we're a whole lot bigger than we were when those "founding fathers" established the forms of government which by and large are still in place today.

I was thinking about this recently during a presentation about a proposed new governance structure that was being given to the congregation I serve. One of the things noted is that all of the experts agree that when a church with an average attendance of, say, 50 grows into a church of 500 it needs to organize and govern itself differently. The two churches are not just different sizes, they are effectively different animals. (In fact, the church growth expert Lyle Schaller describes different sized churches not as "family," "pastoral," "program," and "corporate," as they're often called in the literature but "cat," "collie," "garden," etc. as a way of accentuating the essential differences of different sized churches.) In short, church experts agree that when it comes to organizational structure, size matters.

Now the growth of a 5o member church into a 500 member church is a ten-fold increase. The growth of a 2.5 million "member" country into an over 300 million "member" country is more than a one hundred-fold increase. Yet we are operating under essentially the same governance structure now that we're a "nation" as when were when we were a "cat" (to use Schaller's terms). Could this be at least part of the reason for why our "body politic" seems so unwell?

Just a thought.

In Gassho,


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Canceling Each Other Out

It's been a while since I took math in school, but I can remember the sheer delight and sense of "rightness" I had when I was first taught the idea of things canceling each other out. I thought it so cool -- I could simplify a seemingly complex equation by taking away things that were on both sides. As I remember this principle--and remember that it has been a while--it's that if it was on both sides it wasn't really important to the equation at hand and could be lopped off without making any real difference. And by simplifying the equation by removing the extraneous "noise" you could focus in on the real heart of the problem.

I was thinking about this recently while listening to Rush Linbaugh. He was bemoaning the Democratic/Liberal practice of sending out "talking points" to all of the liberal media outlets and talking heads so that there was a lock step presentation of a single perspective. (A perspective, by the way, which was crafted in weekly phone conferences with leftist environmental whackos.) He played clips from various news broadcasts and, sure enough, the same words being used over and over again.

Of course, when I was up in Maine and could get Air America Radio, Al Franken and others made the exact same claim about Republican/Conservatives. (Except that their talking points were crafted in weekly phone conferences with conservative religious wackos.) They showed the same rather convincing evidence.

So what do you say, guys? Can't we agree that these arguments cancel each other out? Wouldn't it be great if Republicans and Democrats (or Liberals and Conservatives, if you prefer) would stop accusing each other of doing the same thing they're being accused of doing? Stop talking about these things or, better yet stop doing these things! Then, maybe, we could focus our attention in on the heart of the problem.

In Gassho,


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Two Things Everyone Should See

I sometimes encounter something that I want to share with everyone in the whole world. Ray Charles' rendition of America, the Beautiful, for instance, or the energy that radiates from my children when they're really, really happy.

In the last couple of months I've come across two things that I'd like to share with the world. The first is an article titled, The God Fuse: ten things Christians and Atheists can--and must--agree on. (Thanks to my cyber guru the Rev. Roger Otis Kuhrt for once again pointing my browser to something really worthwhile.) This is one of those examples of clear and common-sense thinking that gives one hope for the human species. I wish every single person would take the time to read it with an open mind.

The second was a musical called Just Married (the musical). Jon Arterton and James Mack were married in 2005 ("and the sky didn't fall"), and have put together a beautiful musical that offers a palpable experience of their love, same-sex love, and just plain love. They performed the show at the church where I serve and it was something amazing. I watched as gay couples, lesbian couples, and straight couples were moved to stare into each others' eyes. And you know what? They all saw the same thing staring back--it turns out that love is love. With this, too, I wish everyone could experience it.

In Gassho,


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Is It Getting Hot In Here Or Is It Just Me?

The Times of London (online edition) reported back in March that Pope Benedict XVI had announced that hell is real and not merely a symbol. He wanted everyone to be clear that eternal damnation in everlasting fire is indeed in the cards for many of us, even if "nobody talks about it much anymore."

This would seem to put Pope Benedict XVI in conflict with his predecessor, Pope John Paul II who in 1999 declared that Heaven was “neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.” Hell, by contrast, was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself . . . Rather than a place, Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy." (These quotes from the Times story.)

As a Unitarian Universalist I certainly align myself with my Universalist ancestors who argued (persuasively, I think) that a truly loving God would not consign any of His (sic) children to eternal damnation, just as no loving earthly parent would turn their back on their child no matter what she or he had done. If God is love, then God is all the things St. Paul says about love in 1 Corinthians 13. Such a God would send no one to hell.

But if Pope Benedict XVI's assertion has you feeling a little nervous about what's in store for you, I heartily recommend the book Go To Hell: a heated history of the underworld. It's by a guy I went to high school with, Chuck Crisafulli and Kyra Thompson. Chuck was a riot then, and I see he hasn't lost the sensibility that made him such a good friend. I'd also recommend (again) going to and checking out (especially) episodes 5, 7, and 10.

In Gassho,


The 485,460-Calorie Messiah

Here are a couple of stories I wanted to post a while back but got too busy to do so. These were both Easter themed stories, but are probably good anytime.

The first gives this posting it's title: The 485,460-Calorie Messiah. That's the title Esquire magazine gave its piece about the six foot tall, two hundred pound, anatomically correct statue of Jesus Cosimo Cavallaro sculpted out of milk chocolate. Cavallaro called his work, "My Sweet Lord." For other coverage, see the BBC, or CBS. (The Nutrition Facts box that the folks at Esquire put together is my favorite part of their story.)

So, is this a comment on how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus have been reduced to Easter-egg hunts for chocolate bunnies? Is it a comment on communion?

As a side note: Cavallaro also repainted Room 114 of New York City's Washington Jefferson Hotel in melted mozzarella cheese back in 1999. He also once sprayed five tons of pepper jack cheese on a Wyoming home, and festooning a four-poster bed with 312 pounds of processed ham. You can check out his own site here.
In Gassho,

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Body of a God

Several years ago I saw a T-shirt with this message:

I have the body of a god. Unfortunately, it's the Buddha.

This got me thinking. Why do people assume the Buddha was, shall we say, hefty? Because in the popular mind he is often confused with Hotei, the so-called 'fat Buddha" who is, in reality, one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese folklore. Like other religious traditions, when Buddhism moved into new countries it often incorporated the gods and goddesses of earlier religions into its own pantheon. The rotund Hotei was a symbol of abundance, of joy, of blessing; over time, naturally, he became mistaken for the Buddha.

Yet according to the stories of the various Buddhist traditions, young Siddhartha had spent six years engaged in the most sever austerities prior to his six days beneath the Bodhi tree. In fact, just before he embraced the middle way--not too hard, not too soft--he is said to have been subsisting on one grain of rice a day. That's why he is oftentime depicted as slender or, as in the Thai tradition, completely emaciated, so that one can see his spine through his abdomen.

Jesus, on the other hand, is usually popularly imagined as a slim, even gaunt, man, yet according to the Gospels he was accused of being a "glutton and drunkard." (see Lk. 7.34 and Mt. 11.19). Apparently Jesus never met a dinner party he didn't like.

So we have Buddha who is usually thought to be overweight yet was probably skinny, and Jesus who is thought to be skinny but may well have had a few extra pounds on him.

I don't quite know where to go with this--the issue of body image in Eastern and Western cultures?--but I find it fascinating. What do you think?

in Gassho,


Monday, April 30, 2007

A New Link

One of the things that's so exciting to me about the Internet--and I'm really still such a neophyte when it comes to these things--is the way we can make links between sometimes seemingly quite dispirit things, place, people, ideas. It's amazing and really rather awe inspiring to me.

I've just added a new link to the right side of this blog, a link to the blog of the Rev. Szilárd Sándor, minister of the Unitarian Church in Jobbágyfalva, Romania. Jobbágyfalva is the partner church of the church I'm currently serving in Brewster, Massachusetts.

It's amazing to me that you could be reading my ruminations of the death of Kurt Vonnegut one minute and then reading the reflections of a Transylvanian minister the next.

What a world we live in!

in Gassho,


Unpacking a Prayer

For the past couple of weeks I've been using a "breath prayer" (one of those short, two line prayers you recite giving one line to your in-breath and the other to your out-breath). Mine has been, "Here I am, Grandfathers / Do with me what you will."

In seminary we used to talk a lot about "unpacking" passages, or phrases, or even words that had a depth of meaning in them that might not be immediately apparent from a look at the surface. I feel that these ten words have much to unpack.
Here I am, Grandfathers . . . Right here, in this time and place of my life. I'm not in a monastery. I'm not on retreat. I'm not at the top of a mountain. I'm in the frequently chaotic, often stunningly wonderful, mess that is my life--kids crying, partner getting on my nerves, me doubting myself. I don't have all the answers, I
haven't (yet?) arrived, I'm just here.

Here I am, Grandfathers . . . And it's just me who's here, not some saint. It's not the Buddha or the Christ, just the overweight man with too much anger and too little patience; the me who tries hard but often falters and fails. It's just me, here.

Here I am, Grandfathers . . . When the emphasis shifts to this word I am reminded to be present, to be doing more than merely mouthing these words but to try to really be here, all of me, fully in the present reality of my life. To be alive in the "here" and the "I" of this moment. (I'm often mindful, too, that God's response to Moses at the burning bush was to offer as a name "I am.")

Here I am, Grandfathers . . . When I began using this prayer I said, "Here I am, Lord." After a recent men's weekend, when we often invoked the wisdom and the power of the "grandfathers," I found that this new word speaks volumes to me--about my place in the world as a man, of the need to remember my own ancestors, and of the necessity of connecting to something deep and primordial. (And don't grandparents often have a special relationship--at least in the popular conception--with their grandchildren that even the parents cannot access?)

Do with me what you will . . . This is a reminder that I am here to do something, to be of some service, to be useful; life has a use for me.

Do with me what you will . . . But I'm integral to that usefulness; it is a mutual thing. Whatever God (the Higher Power, the Universe, Life) wants me to do, whatever "plans" there are to accomplish it will be done with me, not to me, or through me. (I remember reading that if Mary had not assented the incarnation could not have occured.)

Do with me what you will . . . This is saying that I am not just open to the "whims of fate" or the capricious desires of a despotic deity. The word "will" implies, to me at least, a lot more than merely wanting or wishing. To will something is to put the full force of myself behind it. And so I invite the grandfathers to work with me to accomplish that which they will to be done (and not merely what they might wish).

Such an exercise can be done with virtually any prayer. (Or piece of scripture, or line of poetry.) This is one of the virtues of reciting "rote" prayers such as the Catholic rosary or the Jewish 23rd Psalm--saying the same words over and over again increases the opportuity to find ever new and deeper meanings in them.

Here I am, Grandfathers. / Do with me what you will.

In Gassho,


A New Focus

I've been away from the blogosphere for a while and am returning with a newly developing focus. I once knew an artist named Deborah Jones-Buck who would paint a picture and, as soon as it was done would paint another one over top of it. Three, four, or more layers of different paintings would rest beneath the surface of the one she finally showed to the world. She said that she did this not because she didn't like the earlier pictures but that she simply had so many images in her head that she had to get them out or she'd explode. Too many images, too few canvases.

I feel like that a bit, too. There are a million "mini-sermons" that pop and crackle in my little grey cells, and far too few Sundays. So I'm going to share them here. I'll continue to write my commentaries on this socio and political. I'll just add a few more things "spiritual."

In Gassho,


Friday, April 13, 2007

Lucky Mud

Kurt Vonnegut died on Wednesday.

I haven't read a Vonnegut novel in years, but upon hearing of his death I picked up Cat's Cradle and realized just how deeply I'd imbibed him in my youth. As a teenager I drank deep of Slaughterhouse Five (or The Children's Crusade); Player Piano; The Sirens of Titan; Welcome to the Monkey House; Happy Birthday, Wanda June; Mother Night; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; and Breakfast of Champions. Even after all these years the rhythm of his writing, the style as well as the substance, was so familiar yet utterly fresh.

I am supposed to be doing some writing on a project of my own right now, but I could not let his death pass without comment. I suppose I could quote the Tralfamadorians and say, simply, "So it goes." I could refer to the comment Billy Pilgrim, the hero of Slaughterhouse-Five, says of himself at one point, that "he was doing nothing less now . . . then prescribing corrective lenses for Earthling souls."

But there's a passage in Cat's Cradle which I've long hoped will be said during my own memorial service someday; I hope someone is saying it in his. It's the recitation from the Bokononist Last Rites:

God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, ‘Sit up!’
‘See all I’ve made,’ said God, ‘the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.’
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God!
Nobody but You could have done it, God! I certainly couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and look around.
I got so much and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor.
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.

Good night, Mr. Vonnegut. Sleep well. And thank's for the glasses.

In Gassho,


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Oh, My God!

I have not been as excited since . . . I don't know . . . the last time I was this excited!

Last night, while doing research for an upcoming sermon on humanism I stumbled along a series of hyperlinks that ultimately brought me to MR. DEITY. This YouTube series is laugh-out-loud-even-if-you're-by-yourself funny. I, personally, especially like the episodes about the "really big favor" and the "top ten list," but there was at least something in each of the nine episodes posted to date that really got me.



Monday, March 19, 2007

What's In A Name?

I'm a sucker for a subtitle. Over the past couple of months I've come across two books with truly wonderful subtitles and, even more exciting, they lived up to and exceeded my expectations!

I heard about the first one from my friend James Ishmael Ford (he of the great blog MonkeyMind and the double threat of being both a Soto Zen Priest and a Unitarian Universalist minister.) The book is by Soko Morinaga Roshi and is called Novice to Master. What really got me, though, is the subtitle: "an ongoing lesson in the extent of my own stupidity." How can you go wrong studying with a Zen master who has plumbed the depth of his own stupidity? And Morinaga Roshi does not disappoint. Reading his book I felt an excitement that I haven't since my first days reading Buddhist literature--I found new insights, and even familiar teachings came alive for me. I highly recommend this book. (If that's enough for you, here's the link to the book at

And then, I can't remember where, I came across a book by Anthony De Mello called Awareness: the perils and opportunities of reality. I'd already loved this Indian Jesuit from his earlier Sadhana: a way to God (Christian Exercises in Eastern Form). But reviews of Awareness claimed it to be a life-changing book and I'm always open to a new perspective on dealing with the problem of . . . well . . . me. And while I'm still reading it, so far Awareness seems as though it will live up to such hype. (Here's its page on Amazon.)

So, if you're willing to face the "perils and opportunities of reality," and consider "the extent of [your own] stupidity," these wise teachers may prove for you, as they have for me, true guides.

In Gassho,


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rest in Peace, Steve Rogers

I'll admit it.

I still read comic books.

Mostly I keep up with the Dark Knight--a.k.a., the Batman--and his compatriots in the DC Comics universe, but I grew up on the exploits of Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four, so from time to time I will pick up one of the comics that spin their stories and those of their friends and foes in the Marvel Universe.

Since my move to Cape Cod, however, I no longer live near to a comic book store, so I sometimes get my comics news from unexpected places. This morning it was National Public Radio!

That's right, such august journalistic institutions as the BBC, the Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, NPR, and CNN have all been covering the death of Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America. (In case you don't know Captain America, here's a link to his official biography.)

His death came at the end of the Civil War that's been raging in the Marvel world--following a particularly destructive battle, the United States government passes the "Superhuman Registration Act" which requires costumed crime fighters to register themselves (and reveal their secret identities in the process). Some think it's necessary to protect the populace, and others think it's a violation of their civil rights. The two groups fight. There are fairly explicit parallels to the battles raging in our country today around the question of how many freedoms can be sacrificed in the name of protecting freedom.

Pretty heavy stuff for a comic book. Although not unheard of. In fact, comics have often tackled some heavy things in their pages. (See the Wikipedia article on Registration Acts in comic books for some examples, or Wiki's larger article on the so-called Bronze Age of Comic Books during which many titles confronted issues such as drug abuse, racism, etc.)

Yes, a lot of heavy things were going on, still I'm struck by the death of such an iconic figure as Captain America. I put it up there with the death of Superman in 1993 and the breaking of the Batman's back in 1993-1994. These figures--each of whom I grew up with--were legendary, unstoppable, unbeatable; for generations they've been "living symbols" of strength that is good, and honorable, and indomitable. And in the last decade they've been knocked off their pedestals.

It's true that Superman came back from the dead, and the Batman's broken spine was healed, and we may well not have seen the last of Captain America, but we'll never again be able to see them as invincible. And if heroes such as these are not invicible, who or what can be? Perhaps this more acurately reflects the world we live in, but Cap . . . I'll miss you.

In Gassho,


Thursday, February 15, 2007

More About FUUCSL

Yesterday I wrote about the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Second Life. It turns out that I'm not the only one. (No surprise there!) A colleague of mine, the Rev. Christine Robinson, who serves the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, has written a lot about this virtual congregation in her blog, iMinister. One of her recent posts goes into a fair amount of detail.

Today I also received an e-mail from the (one of the?) founder(s) of FUUCSL in which he wrote:
There is going to be an article published in USA Today next week about the church!!! One of the issues that the reporter, Cathy Grossman, Religion and Spirituality Correspondent, is going to cover is whether a virtual church can serve real spiritual needs. I can assure you that it does and Cathy interviewed several people from our church besides myself, including the Reverend Christine Robinson from Albuquerque and one of our members who is disabled and homebound and who has been able to reconnect to her spirituality through our church and who feels a calling to help others in her situation through online ministry.

Our oldest member of the church is 74 years old and he is an active participant. Many of our other members are in their 40s and 50s. Technology is certainly involved, but it is not so great that it cannot be overcome, as has been demonstrated by the multitude of people who show up at our virtual church who can barely figure out how to walk or sit down, but they do and they stay because of the welcoming, calming and spiritual atmosphere that we provide.

What rich potential there is in this new technology. There's potential for problems, of course, and much has been written and discussed about the danger of this kind of "virtual" community, about how it could lead to even further isolation and alienation, yet people report that they are finding real community there. And if people are going to spend hours upon hours in these virtual worlds, shouldn't we establish outposts of sane and salvific community?

By the way, in terms of stats: the FUUCSL has been in existence for about six months. In that time it has gained 180 members, it has well over 50 people who regularly attend worship , and its membership has doubled in the last two months. FUUCSL is already the second largest church in Second Life. It would be interesting to see how many of these folks are already UUs, or now seek out a brick and mortar UU church, and how many make this their only church home.

in gassho,


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Virtual Church

It seems that almost everywhere I turn these days I'm hearing about Second Life--the virtual "universe" that is taking our "real" world by storm. People are spending up to forty hours a week--and beyond--in this cyber reality. News organizations like Reuters and the Wall Street Journal now have reporters whose full-time beat is covering the goings on in this virtual reality.

And now, for those who say that they are too busy in Second Life to go to church, there is the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Second Life. Apparently they have worship services on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. If you're interested, here is a link to a promtional video that gives a little flavor.

Who knows where this might lead, but people report that they really do find a real feeling of real community in places like this cyber world. Perhaps we'll one day have full service congregations--just like those brick and mortar churches we're already familar with--speaking to the needs of folks and of the wider Second Life world.

Yours in Gassho,


Thursday, February 01, 2007

This world is SO wonderful!

I sometimes--actually, with a fair bit of regularity--run across a story that reminds me how truly wonderful this life is. It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of my own existence, to begin to believe that what I experience is pretty much what life is like.

And then I hear about a guy like Paul Woods. He's the 44 year old man who's driving from Alaska to Virginia--a trip of more than 4,500 miles--on his Toro lawnmower! He's on his third engine, has only three of his original five gears, and can reach speeds of up to 15 miles an hour . . . when he's not weighed down by the grocery cart he's pulling as a trailer with his tent, his tools, some food, and his dog, Yoda. Oh, and he left in 2005!

Woods says that he was in Alaska caring for his mother, and that with her death he's now on an odyssey to claim the house (in Virginia) that she left him in her will. Why he's doing it on a lawnmower isn't reported in any of the news stories that pop up when you google this. (83 as of tonight!)

But I don't really care why he's doing it. What matters to me is that he is doing it--that somewhere out there there's a guy who's riding across the country on a lawnmower. With his dog in a shopping cart/trailer. And who's living a life I could not even begin to imagine.

What matters to me is that life includes so much more than what I'm experiencing, so much more than I'd ever be able to experience . . . yet it is being experienced! Life is so much more vast and wide than my little parcel, yet I am part of that vastness. My life is a part of the rich tapestry that is Life. Yours, too.

Isn't that wonderful?

in Gassho,


Monday, January 22, 2007

More About Angel del Basuero

As a follow up to my most recent posting I want to give you a couple of other links about the Angel del Basuero--the Angel of the Garbage Dump--Hanley Denning.

The Portland Press Herald ran a really nice article about Hanley. And here's a really lovely report on her stateside memorial service, held in Yarmouth.

According to another Press Herald article, there is a film, Recycled Life, that is a 38-minute documentary about the people who live and work on and around the Guatemala City Dump. It has now been nominated for an Academy Award. Here is an article about the film, and here is a link to the film's web site where you can watch the trailer and pre-order a copy of the DVD.

And, of course, if you haven't yet, visit the Safe Passage/Camino Seguro site to see for yourself what this young woman's vision and passion brought into being.

In Gassho,


Friday, January 19, 2007

There's One More Star in the Heavens, and the Earth is Less Luminous

Hanley Denning, a young woman from Yarmouth, Maine, went to Antigua to learn Spanish. What she found there was the poverty and the pain of the families living on and around the Guatemala City Dump. Larger than several football fields, the dump was "home" to generations and Hanley knew she had to do something.

Her story could easily be a TV movie--as she told it to me my mouth kept dropping open at the sheer unlikeliness of it all--yet every scene would be true. She sold her car and her computer and began to try offering services to the children of the dump. A priest offered her an unused chapel at the edge of the dump and by herself Hanley began to clean it up. Some local kids started hanging out; then they started helping. The local drug dealers tried to run her out. She stayed. The vision grew.
That was in 1999. Today the organization she founded--Safe Passage/Camino Seguro--serves over 550 children. Each child receives assistance with homework and hands-on learning activities designed to reinforce basic primary school concepts; they also participate in a range of programs such as art, music, sports, English classes, and computer instruction.
Safe Passage also provides nutritional support, an on-site clinic, vocational training, and clubs for children and their mothers. And they have early intervention programs, adult literacy programs, and residential care for children coming from the most dangerous and unstable living situations. Volunteers come from around the world to be a part of this incredible program, all of which came into being because one woman knew she had to do something about the horror she saw in front of her.
When I interviewed Hanley for the radio show I briefly hosted in Portland, Maine, I left the studio knowing that I had been in the presence of a living saint. The fact that she would have been incredibly uncomfortable with that description was one of the reasons I felt so sure. Hanley was a living demonstration of the words of Edward Everett Hale: "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I must not hesitate to do the something that I can."

Hanley died in a car accident yesterday, January 18th, 2007. If it's true that when a person dies a new star shines in the heavens, it is no less true that today the world is less luminous for this loss.

in Gassho,


Saturday, January 13, 2007

One word . . . plastics

There are some wonderful benefits to having children. Lots of them, actually, but yesterday I was appreciating one in particular--the chance to watch children's television. My youngest and I were watching an episode of Reading Rainbow which was focusing on recylcing. There was a brief piece on the development of technologies that can turn corn into plastic!

Surplus corn can be harvested and turned into plastic that can be made into everything from containers to utensils to clothing, and when the product's usefulness has ended it can be composted. So you can recycle not only your old vegetable scraps but the bags the vegetables came in in the first place!

Is this a great world or what?

in Gassho,


Thursday, January 11, 2007

How Far Have We Come?

I'm preparing my sermon for the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and so am considering the state of race in America today. On the one hand, Massachusetts recently swore in its first--and the country's second--African-American governor and Barack Obama is considered by most a serious contender for the White House in 2008.

On the other hand, thanks to the NAACP's magazine The Crisis I came across a truly disturbing seven minute video documentary called A Girl Like Me. A high school student named Kiri Davis was working on a project for her literature class in which she was interviewing young women of color. Over and over again issues having to do with societal assumptions about beauty and the girls' sense of self kept coming up. She thought it might make a good documentary film and, as part of the Reel Works Teen Filmmakers project she created her film. [You can watch it at the Media That Matters Film Festival website. This link brings you to the Festival's home page; this one brings you right to the film.]

A Girl Like Me contains interviews with some young women of color, but the really disturbing thing is Davis' recreation of the 1947 "baby doll" tests of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark. In this test, identical dolls were presented to a child and the child was asked to identify the “nice” doll, the “bad” doll, and the doll he or she would rather play with. As I said, these were identical dolls, down to their clothing, except for the color of the doll’s skin. One was white and one was brown.

In his original experiment, which was used as one of the arguments in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision, Clark found that of the sixteen children between the ages of six and nine he tested, ten of them chose the white doll as their preference, ten of them considered the white doll the "nice" doll, and eleven of the sixteen called the brown doll the "bad" doll.

Ms. Davis recreated this experiment down to the exact wording of the questions for her film in 2005, and of the twenty-one children she studied eleven picked the white doll over the black doll. When asked why the white doll was the “nice” doll she was told, by the most innocent little faces you’ve ever seen, “because it’s white.” When asked why the black doll was “bad,” she was told that it was because “it’s black.” And most heart rending of all, when she asked the kids, as Dr. Clark had asked them in the ‘40s, “Which doll looks like you?” you can see the confusion, the hesitancy, and the hurt as they push forward the black doll they’d just denigrated.

So what's happened to the Rev. Dr. King's dream that people will be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? We may have come a long way, but we have a long way still to go.

In Gassho,

Rev. Wik

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Real Issue

A member of the congregation I serve in Brewster, MA suggested that we create buttons that read:

"What God has joined together let no one break asunder . . . save gay marriage!"

We may be getting into the button business in the near future (keep watch on this space for more information!), but it's assured that we're going to be getting BACK into the fight for marriage equality. With the recent vote of the State Legislature folks are coming forward more committed than ever.

I want to make two points that just keep coming up for me in all of the debate around this issue:

First, some people say that "marriage" must be reserved for heterosexuals because "the purpose of marriage is procreation." If that's really true, then people who bear children out of wedlock, and folks like my wife and me who are married but unable to conceive children, are likewise a threat to the institution of marriage. Until the opponents of marriage equality begin a campaign to somehow deal with these two groups I will always suspect that this isn't their real concern.

Second, when opponents of marriage equality talk about the "sanctity of marriage" being under attack by gays and lesbians who want their unions to be recognized and don't also demonize adulterers and batterers and, for that matter, the producers of "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" I also find their arguments less than convincing. Which is more destructive of a sense of the sacredness of the institution--no-fault divorce or a couple of women who've been committed to one another for over thirty years wanting to get married? I get the idea that the "sanctity of marriage" isn't really what's worrying them, either.

The last point I want to make is not mine, but Welton Gaddy's. Rev. Gaddy is President of the Interfaith Alliance, a Baptist minister, and host of State of Belief a weekly radio show that airs on AirAmerica Radio. At the time the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was being debated he wrote:
“For those people who want to protect marriage, let me offer a few suggestions: Raise the public’s consciousness of the dignity and importance of women in our still deeply patriarchal society; increase the minimum wage and offer tax breaks to the working poor so that spouses can see each other for quality lengths of time, rather than briefly passing on their way to two jobs; encourage family planning; start a plan to deal with domestic violence; and work to cover mental health care in medical insurance policies so serious emotional difficulties can be prevented from tearing marriages apart.”

But somehow I get the feeling that "defending marriage" isn't really the issue that they're talking about either.

Hmmmmm. I wonder what is.

In Gassho,

Rev. Wik

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

At the End of Our Rope

The deposed leader of Iraq Saddam Hussein has been hanged before the eyes of the world--quite literally, because of a leaked videotape of the hanging. Called a brutal dictator, a murder, responsible for untold crimes against his neighbors and his own people, his removal from power has been the retrofitted reason the Bush administration has given for our invasion of Iraq. (Before the war, you may recall, it was because of "weapons of mass destruction;" after no such weapons were found, the rationale morphed into "regime change.")

His death may well be justice for his crimes; the world may in fact be better of without Saddam Hussein in it. I am in no position to judge. But the image of a man falling to his death at the end of a rope in a world where that image can be captured on a cell phone and almost instantaneously sent around the world via the Internet--that upsets me. It's like one of those episodes of Star Trek when Kirk and company land on a planet with tremendously futuristic technology on which everyone nonetheless acts as if it's Earth's "old west." The juxtaposition is jarring. What are we doing hanging people--anyone--in the twenty-first century?

Albert Einstein once famously said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” When will we learn that war is not the way to make peace? That fear and hatred cannot bring a shift to love? That murder--even state sanctioned murder, even for one who deserves to die--is simply not right?

I hope it's soon enough because at times I fear that it's we who are at the end of our rope.

in gassho,


The Golden Rule

I recently moved to Massachusetts, proud to be living in the first state in Union to recognize that there is no legal impediment to two people--regardless of gender--joining their lives in marriage. Folks may have their own moral, religious, and/or philosophical perspectives--it is still a free country, after all--but from a purely legal standpoint there's no reason heterosexual couples and homosexual couples should be treated differently.

Today the state legislature voted to move forward a proposed ammendment to the language of the state constitution which would define marriage as between one man and one woman. I'm hearted to note that the vote was 61 for to 132 against, but still the measure needed only 50 votes to move forward.

I wish they'd read my recent editorial in the Cape Cod Times. (You have to scroll down a bit to get there, but it's there: "Two dimensions of marriage.") Or, if not me, I wish they'd listened to our state's Governor-elect, Deval Patrick, who said:
"Above all, this is a question of conscience. Using the initiative process to give a minority fewer freedoms than the majority, and to inject the state into fundamentally private affairs, is a dangerous precedent, and an unworthy one for this Commonwealth," he said in a statement. "I hope by whatever means appropriate, the constitutional convention today ends this debate."

But it won't, of course. As with the debates around abolition, and women's sufferage, and civil rights for African Americans, this debate will continue. Why, though, in this nation which so many continue to call a "Christian nation" is it so hard for folks to put into practice what Jesus taught as the heart and soul of his message: do unto others as you would have others do unto you? (Or, as another religious tradition puts it, what you would not have someone do to you, do not do that to someone else.)

Yours in Gassho,